Conference Preview: OVC adds Belmont, seeks multiple tournament bids

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

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The 2012-2013 season could be the Ohio Valley Conference’s finest hour. With the mid-major landscape in a state of flux, this could be the season that the OVC legitimizes itself as a basketball conference. The conference features a first team All-American, two 2012 NCAA tournament appearances, a future-Hall of Fame coach, and anywhere from two to six future-NBA players. A lot of things have to go right, but there’s a definite possibility the OVC sends at least two teams to the NCAA Tournament.

With the addition of Belmont, the OVC has split up into and East and West divisions. The Bruins enter the season as the prohibitive favorites to win the East division. Head coach Rick Byrd has compiled a 545-284 record in his 26 years at Belmont, and brings his squad into the OVC for the first time looking to do what they do almost every year, which is make the NCAA tournament. The Bruins joined the OVC because a) it made more geographical sense and b) the competition is better, plus they might actually tout the best back-court in the OVC, made up of Kerron Johnson and Ian Clark. Tennessee State returns four starters from the 2011-2012 that handed Murray State  it’s first and only loss of the regular season and will compete with Belmont for the top spot.  They are led by sharpshooting wing Robert Covington, arguably the conference’s best scorer not named Isaiah Canaan. Tennessee Tech has to replace Kevin Murphy, who was drafted by the Utah Jazz, but second year head coach Steve Payne returns forward Jud Dillard, a first team All-Conference selection last season. The Owls have talent and experience, two items essential in making a late season run.  Morehead State doesn’t have Kenny Faried anymore, but they have first year head coach Sean Woods, who did great things at Mississippi Valley State. The Eagles won’t be a title contender, but they will be a very difficult-out.

Murray State is the conference’s “golden goose”,  and the favorite to come out of the West division, led by first team All-American guard Isaiah Canaan. The senior guard torched the competition en route to the nation’s longest undefeated streak (23-0) and an conference record for wins (31-2). The question is, can he do it again? The Racers graduated three  significant pieces and lost another (Zay Jackson) to a season-ending suspension. If Ed Daniel and Latreze Mushatt can elevate their games, Isaiah Canaan is a special type of player. The west division is Murray State’s for the taking, but Southeast Missouri  has improved tremendously under third year head coach Dickey Nutt, and put up a very tough fight on both occasions against Murray State last season.  The Redhawks return All-OVC players in junior forward Tyler Stone and senior guard Marland Smith.

While Murray State and Belmont are the only two teams with real, legitimate at-large potential, there are at least three teams that have the talent needed to win the OVC Tournament. There’s a real possibility that the OVC has three representatives come March Madness time.

Take the time now to mark down your schedules for March 6-9 in Nashville, because the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament may end up being the most exciting three days of the college hoops season.

Don’t be shocked to see three OVC representatives in the Big dance.

All-Conference Team (* denotes Player of the Year)
G Isaiah Canaan (Murray State)*
F Robert Covington (Tennessee State)
G Jud Dillard (Tennessee Tech)
G Kerron Johnson (Belmont)
F Tyler Stone (Southeast Missouri)

Predicted Standings
East
1. Belmont
2. Tennessee State
3. Tennessee Tech
4. Morehead State
5. Eastern Kentucky
6. Jacksonville State

West
1. Murray State
2. Southeast Missouri
3. Austin Peay
4. SIU-Edwardsville
5. Eastern Illinois
6. UT-Martin

Conference preview: Northeast Conference still LIU’s world

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.
To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Long Island might’ve been the luckiest team in college basketball this offseason. Four players were involved in an on-campus brawl that ended with all players being charged with third-degree assault. They included the team’s top three scorers — last year’s conference Northeast Conference Player of the Year Julian Boyd, Jamal Olsawere and C.J. Garner. Fortunately, the charges only resulted in a two-game, conference play suspension for all of them. With that, they should be primed to repeat as conference champions.

Behind them, Wagner lost coach Dan Hurley, but new head man Bashir Mason gets four starters back, including leading scorer Latif Rivers (14.6 points per game) and forward Jonathon Williams (13.4 points, five rebounds per game). Robert Morris might’ve been one the most neglected 20-win teams in 2011-12 en route to a 26-11 record, including a 13-5 mark in NEC play. The Colonials get four of their starters back, including first-team all-conference guard Velton Jones. Quinnipiac could be in for its best season in school history after 18 wins last season and Ike Azotam returning. Expect Sacred Heart to make an impact with four starters coming back, including first-team All-NEC pick Shance Gibson and his 22 ppg last season, fourth in the country. Glenn Braica and the St. Francis (N.Y.) Terriers will get back guard Shane Calloway after a season-ending injury in 2011-12 and Monmouth is hoping to bounce back from a 20-loss season behind Jesse Steele (12.6 ppg) and five returning scorers.

Kyle Vinales is pretty much the only ray of light for a Central Connecticut State team that lost a lot of offensive firepower with the graduation of Ken Horton and Robby Ptacek. But Vinales led all freshman in the nation in scoring last season. Mt. St. Mary’s is hoping for new life under new head coach Jamion Christian while St. Francis (Pa.) is looking for more than the six wins they had last season under new coach Robbie Krimmel. Bryant lost 28 games last season, so there’s nowhere to go but up, really, behind forward Alex Francis (17 ppg, 7 rpg in 2011-12) and Frankie Dobbs’ 13.3 ppg. Fairleigh Dickinson is coming off the worst record in school history — 3-26 — and gets back only Lonnie Hays, from injury.

All-Conference Team

G: Shane Gibson, Sacred Heart

G: Velton Jones, Robert Morris

G: Kyle Vinales, Central Connecticut State

F: Jamal Olaswere, LIU

F: Julian Boyd, LIU*

*-Player of the Year

Predicted Finish

1.) LIU

2.) Wagner

3.) Quinnipiac

4.) Robert Morris

5.) St. Francis (N.Y.)

6.) Sacred Heart

7.) Monmouth

8.) Central Connecticut State

9.) St. Francis (Pa.)

10.) Mt. St. Mary’s

11.) Bryant

12.) Farleigh Dickinson

David Harten is the editor of The Backboard Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter at @David_Harten.

Conference Preview: MEAC prepares for life after Norfolk State

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

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Kyle O’Quinn and the Norfolk State Spartans took the country by storm last season, ruining brackets everywhere with their stunning upset of No.2-seed Missouri in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. With O’Quinn now in the NBA, programs in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference are back to where they usually are: A college basketball afterthought serving as non-conference filler for programs looking to pad their records.

Delaware State and Savannah State are the two teams most likely to contend for the MEAC championship in 2012-2013. Delaware State returns two of the conference’s top players, sophomore guard Tahj Tate and sophomore center Kendall Gray. Tate was the team’s leading scorer last season despite missing five games, averaging 16.1ppg. He is unquestionably the most dynamic player in the conference, and can single handedly take over the game. Gray is one of the nation’s premier shot-blocker, but was limited to just 17 games last season because of a knee injury. No other team in the MEAC boasts a inside-outside combination like Delaware State, and these two players will ultimately be the reason why the Hornets finish atop the standings.

But the Savannah State should not be left out of the discussion. The Tigers had the MEAC’s best record a season ago and return their top two scorers, senior forward Rashad Hassan (13.1ppg) and senior guard Deric Rudolph (10.7ppg). After the top two teams, the conference starts to get dicey. Bethune-Cookman and North Carolina Central could sneak in to one of the top two spots, and Howard has the talent to cause an upset or two. But inconsistent play and a lack of talent depth will restrict the success of many of the conference’s programs.

The most interesting component of Delaware State and Savannah State sitting atop the league is that the two programs won’t face each other in conference-play. So we may not see the two best teams in the MEAC play each other until the conference tournament. But it’s not a given. Both teams stumbled in the conference tournament a year ago despite playing the best basketball in the conference up to that point. So while we have a good idea of who should win it all in 2012-2013, in the MEAC, nothing is certain.

All-Conference Team (* denotes Player of the Year)

G Pendarvis Williams (Norfolk State)
G Tahj Tate (Delaware State)*
G Deric Rudolph (Savannah State)
G Adrien Coleman (Bethune-Cookman)
F Rashad Hasasan (Savannah State)

Predicted Standings
1. Delaware State
2. Savannah State
3. Bethune-Cookman
4. North Carolina Central
5. North Carolina A&T
6. Howard
7. Norfolk State
8. Morgan State
9. Florida A&M
10. Hampton
11. Coppin State
12. South Carolina State
13. Maryland-Eastern Shore

Troy Machir is the managing editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @TroyMachir.

Conference Preview: The MAC is Ohio’s for the taking

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

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The Mid-American Conference went unnoticed for much of the 2011-2012 season but made up for it with Ohio’s magical Sweet-16 run. While head coach John Groce left for Illinois, sensational scoring guard D.J. Cooper returns for his final season, and will lead the Bobcats under new head coach Jim Christian, who served as head coach at Kent State from 2002-2008. The Bobcats return nine players from last year’s team including Walter Offutt and Nick Kellogg, and will be the heavy favorites to repeat as MAC champs in 2012-2013.

While Ohio may be the odds-on favorite to finish atop the MAC standings, they are not the only talented team in the conference. Akron actually finished with a better record last season, and return on of the few MAC players with real NBA potential, senior center Zeke Marshall. This season, the Zips will be shorthanded however. Quincy Diggs, the conference’s Sixth Man of the Year last season, was suspended in October for the entire season for violation the school’s code of student ethics.

Kent State is a difficult team to read in the East division this season. Much of their production is gone from a year ago, including Justin Greene, the team’s leading scorer. High-flying Chris Evans and senior guard Randal Holt lead a Golden Flashes team looking to find an identity.

In the West division things are just as interesting. Toledo is the most talented team in the division, but due to a low Academic Progress Rating (APR) score, the program won’t be eligible for post-season play. It is a real shame too, because this is arguably the most talented team Toledo has fielded since 1980, the last time the Rockets made the NCAA Tournament.

The Eastern Michigan Eagles should be the team that benefits the most from Toledo’s postseason ban. Former-Syracuse assistant Rob Murphy is in his second year as head coach of the Eagles and didn’t arrive to the MAC empty-handed, bringing along DaShonte Riley, a talented big-man who redshirted a year at Syracuse. Having sat out a season at Eastern Michigan, the 7-foot center will be able to impose his will on the rest of the conference this season. No team outside of Akron has a big-man as talented as Riley, and the Eagles should reap the rewards. But Riley isn’t the only transfer that Murphy reeled in. Wyoming’s Daylen Harrison and Arkansas’ Glenn Bryant will also be able to step in right away and provide an instant impact.

The rest of the west is suffering from key transfer losses. Western Michigan saw Matt Stainsbrook, their best big-man, transfer to Xavier, and Central Michigan two of their best players in Trey Zeigler (Pittsburgh) and Austin McBroom (Saint Louis).

All-Conference Team (* denotes Player of the Year)
G D.J. Cooper (Ohio)
F A’uston Calhoun (Bowling Green)
C Zeke Marshall (Akron)
F Javon McCrea (Buffalo)
G Walter Offutt (Ohio)

Predicted Standings – MAC East
1. Ohio
2. Akron
3. Kent State
4. Bowling Green
5. Buffalo
6. Miami (OH)

Predicted Standings – MAC West
1. Toledo
2. Eastern Michigan
3. Western Michigan
4. Ball State
5. Northern Illinois
6. Central Michigan

Troy Machir is the managing editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @TroyMachir

Conference Previews: Harvard still the favorite in the Ivy, but barely

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

This was supposed to be Harvard’s year. With seniors Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry back to help bridge the gap between the old guard and a very talented group of youngsters, the Crimson were on track to be one of the nation’s most dangerous mid-majors. But then Casey and Curry got themselves entangled in a cheating scandal that involved 125 or so students and were suspended for the year.

Harvard will still contend for the Ivy League title. Laurent Rivard has been a doubled-digit scorer since he set foot on campus, Christian Webster averaged 13.0 points as a sophomore two years ago and the likes of Steve Moundou-Missi, Wesley Saunders, Jonah Travis and Kenyatta Smith are promising, but with freshman point guard Siyani Chambers handling all of the ballhandling duties, there will likely be a learning curve. Replacing four senior starters is never an easy thing.

That opens the door for Princeton, who will be right there with Harvard all season long. The Tigers will be led by Ian Hummer, a forward that is one of the nation’s best-kept secrets. He averaged 16.1 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists in league play last season, but for Princeton to overtake the Crimson atop the conference standings, someone is going to need to emerge in the back court as Douglas Davis graduated.

Two teams to keep an eye on are Columbia and Brown. The Lions bring back all five starters, including the league’s best inside-outside duo in guard Brian Barbour and big fella Mark Cisco. Brown only won eight games a year ago, but they get four starters back and Tucker Halpern, who averaged 12.6 points two years ago, is healthy again this year. For Penn to be competitive, they’ll need Miles Cartwright to fill the void left by the graduation of Zack Rosen. Cornell brings back reigning freshman of the year Shonn Miller to join Errick Peck.

All-Conference Team (*denotes Player of the Year)

G: Miles Cartwright, Penn
G: Sean McGonagil, Brown
G: Brian Barbour, Columbia
G: Laurent Rivard, Harvard
F: Ian Hummer, Princeton*

Predicted Standings

1. Harvard
2. Princeton
3. Columbia
4. Cornell
5. Penn
6. Brown
7. Yale
8. Dartmouth

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Conference preview: Shining a light on the Horizon

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.
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Butler’s gone! Butler’s gone! Whatever shall the Horizon League DO?

Carry on, one suspects. It’s worth noting that, since the turn of the millennium, the league has sent Milwaukee to the Big Dance three times, Illinois-Chicago twice, and Cleveland State, Wright State and Detroit once apiece.

In fact, Detroit is the league’s reigning tourney champion. Ray McCallum, Jr. is repeating as the preseason player of the year, as chosen by league coaches, media and sports information directors. And Detroit has only been tabbed as the second-best team in the league. More love has been showered on the Valparaiso Crusaders, who have prospered under the coaching of Bryce Drew, a man whose One Shining Moment as a Valpo player has become symbolic of mid-major glory.

The Crusaders return 6-7 Ryan Broekhoff, the Horizon’s leader rebounds per game from last season. At his side will be highly efficient big man Kevin Van Wijk and pass-first, defend-first guard Erik Buggs.

McCallum is an NBA-sized talent, but he isn’t alone in Motor City. Big man Nick Minnerath only played five games last year, sitting out the rest of the season after injuring his knee against Bowling Green. He’ll be back and ready to tear it up, as will senior guard Jason Calliste.

No other team garnered even one first-place vote from the panel, but Green Bay and Youngstown State have enough talent to figure in the league race, and Cleveland State is always good under head coach Gary Waters.

The days of two bids for the Horizon are likely over. Since those at-large bids always went to Butler anyway, things really haven’t changed all that much for the rest of the league.

All-League Team (*Player of the Year)

Kendrick Perry, 6’0” G, Youngstown State

*Ray McCallum, 6’2” G, Detroit

Ryan Broekhoff, 6’7” G, Valparaiso

Kevin Van Wijk, 6’8” F, Valparaiso

Alec Brown, 7’1” C, Green Bay

Predicted Standings

1. Valparaiso

2. Detroit

3. Youngstown State

4. Green Bay

5. Cleveland State

6. Milwaukee

7. Illinois-Chicago

8. Loyola

9. Wright State